Sundance 2019: JD Dillard's Awesome Creature Feature 'Sweetheart'
by Alex Billington
January 29, 2019
Sound the alarm! There's a new monster movie in town and it's awesome. Sweetheart is the latest feature made by filmmaker J.D. Dillard, who launched his career in 2016 with a film at Sundance titled Sleight - about young magician with some special powers. Sweetheart is an entirely different feature from Dillard, but just as impressive - perhaps even moreso considering how much he has achieved on such a small scale. This contained horror thriller starts with a woman washing up on shore on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. It's not the elements that will kill her, but something that comes out of the water at night that is much more dangerous. I loved this, it's one of the best new introductions to a cinema monster in a while.
Obviously I'm not going to give away anything else or explain anything more about the monster - but let's say he/she/it is badass. And the big reveals are awesome as they story plays out. Kiersey Clemons stars as the young woman who finds herself stuck on this desolate island. Dillard doesn't waste any time getting us into the story, moving swiftly through the usual "island survival" tropes, and kicking things off one night when she hears a plane flying overhead. This is her first encounter with the monster and it only gets scarier from here on out. The scary moments in this are genuinely scary, in a basic but very effective way. Dillard isn't trying to reinvent the (horror) wheel, but rather just work on a small scale and give us something dope.
The film itself is one of these contained horror thrillers that doesn't really say much but leaves plenty to the imagination. There's just enough dialogue and intrigue to make us wonder what happened to her before she arrive on the island, and what's going to happen next (or what the whole point of all this is anyway). And there's just enough regarding the monster to make us wonder where it came from and what its importance is, without explaining its origin or giving away anything else about it. I really love that he keeps this small and focused and ambiguous, making it all the more thrilling and thought-provoking. We don't need all the answers, though there are a couple provided. The rest is up to us to discuss ourselves after watching this.
All the fights and scary nighttime scenes and horrific moments in Sweetheart are intense. I don't know how he shot this, but he pulls off some seriously badass action. This film is as impressive of an introduction to a movie monster as The Predator or The Descent, evoking that same feeling of "holy shit this is cool" without stuffing more into the story or being forced to establish a franchise by the end. Maybe they'll make a sequel, but this one will remain as the original that kicks ass entirely on its own. It also made me think about "Lost", that mysterious "what is happening on this island?" intrigue and no clear answers provided. Sweetheart is an awesome midnight discovery at Sundance 2019 and I can't wait for everyone to get the chance to see this.
Alex's Sundance 2019 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing